By Franklin Alli,
Mrs. Dupe Atoki is the Director General, Consumer Protection Council, CPC. In this interview, she talked about the challenges of combating consumer abuses and curbing impunity of business operators in the economy; the Council’s collaborations with other sector regulators, among other issues. Excerpt:
What’s your most challenging moment as DG, CPC?
Where do I start from? In fact, if I write a book about my challenges, it will be a very voluminous one. I think it was the day I woke up to realize the enormous job that I have and the deficiency in the mandates that I have been given.
For weeks and months after my appointment as DG CPC, I was completely distrusted because I know what to do, I know what the mandate is and so the question is not my challenging moment but challenging moments.
For me, if you ask me, all the time that businesses were attacking and all that, even when they threatened my life, I did not want to fail. I look at the enormity of the job, the staff strength, six offices to monitor over 170 million people; the infrastructural deficiency, equipment, the environment was not conducive; you must have a good working environment to be able to ginger staff and I was taken to what supposed to be my office and I said me? Coming from where I worked, I took my time to re organize the office in a manner that will inspire my creativity.
I recalled the first time a letter was sent to a company to attend to summon but they didn’t even respond. We allowed them a day, it passed; they didn’t even respond. I told our director to write them again and refer to our mandate that criminalizes disobedience to summons. Believe or not, ten of them rush back here immediately. That was high level of impunity of businesses.
Of course, I had very pleasurable moments because God in His infinite mercy, always find ways to bring people to help me out.
At this moment, I am pleased to acknowledge the support of the firm, Simmons Copper and Partners with their representative, Mr. Babatunde Irukera. Most of the support they give us is free. We can’t even afford their fees. They support our investigations. They empower us.
They saw our passion and they did not put self, first. Without them there will be a big gap in the annual report that we presented to public.
Is your mandate not a duplication of what SON, NAFDAC is doing?
I want you to understand where our mandates start and where our mandates end. I can tell you very well we are not over stepping our bounds. We have a global mandate that gives us the rights to implement all consumers’ protection laws.
That is why we are busy body everywhere, and that is why these sectors regulators don’t complain. We remain the apex agency that provides redress and that is why we are everywhere providing redress for consumers.
For instance, in the banking industry, CBN regulates them and provides the parameter for which banks must operate. They can fine banks, revoke their licenses but we are the agency that protects consumers. Sometimes, we ask CBN to send us complaints that they receive and so, we have memorandum of understanding, MoU, with these organisations like CBN, SON, etc.
The only organisation that refused to sign MoU with us is Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, because they believe we don’t have business with aviation sector. I don’t engage in any battle with them. I deal with the operators. If you disobey CPC, go and get the backing of your regulator. So, to ensure compliance with business, we remain the option.
Does your interventions extend to pyramid business like the MMM?
The Mavrodi Mondial Moneybox, MMM, is one of the several pyramid business, so, I wonder which of them CPC should be going round to say don’t do this, don’t do that. . I kept telling consumers whenever I have a chance: your money is yours, put it where it will give you value; understand where you are putting your money; don’t take it to gamble thinking CPC will rescue you. Ensure you know that it will give you redress when we come in and we think you have been exploited. But if you have not been exploited and they tell you ‘We are not selling anything but if you put your money it will keep multiplying, then, you are on your own. Nigerians are going into it with their eyes opened and when they run into trouble they want us to rescue them. They want to hold us responsible for not intervening but that is not parts of our mandate, unless there is some unscrupulous and some exploitation in those business.
For instance, our intervention in “telecommunication and food & beverage are to safeguard advert/promo/information that is deceptive or misleading.”
When the foremost provider of telecommunication service in Nigeria, MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd came under investigation for deceptive promo” that led to the Council’s Order for balance payment of N1.85 million to a consumer who was earlier paid N150,000 as against the N2 million winning prize.
What is your position on the recent importation of plastic foods from India?
I would say that as far as National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, is concerned, they regulates the quality of food and beverages. We deal with complaints arising from breach of that regulation. So, our relationship with NAFDAC is very clear. NAFDAC cannot provide redress for consumers, they can compel manufacturers to comply with their standards and if a manufacturer fails, they have the powers to prosecute them.
However, prosecution doesn’t translate to redress for consumers, so that is where we come, we take it up. That is why in food an0d beverage, we receive complaints of non-compliance to standards set by NAFDAC and we provide redress. NAFDAC on its own can decide to remove the product from the market and destroy that we have seized several times. That is on the business side of their regulation. We remain on the side of consumers.
As far as the Indian food is concerned, why should you buy moi-moi from India when you can buy freshly made ones in a restaurant in Nigeria? Is it a status symbol now, that you are eating moi-moi from India with all the preservatives and all that? . Don’t say some agencies are there and are not working because I bought this imported moi-moi from India and they are not protected.
Imported moi-moi from India
It is a staple food and the best way to it is on that day it is freshly made. Again, that falls within the realm of NAFDAC, if they have standards for importation of moi-moi. They should have all those regulations that concern food products.
In this age of internet of things, what you buy online is not what is delivered to you. What are you doing on the e-commerce sector?
If you look at our report on page 52, we did recalls of complaints in the sector up to 10 percent. So, it is an area we are beaming our search light. We haven’t totally neglected that area and we received complaints regularly which we address. This includes none delivery of specification, late delivery, lack of refund, etc. those are areas that we have attended. We have a plan to tighten regulation and to ensure we have adequate regulations that capture that sector. But pending that, we haven’t gone to sleep as you can see in the interventions that we have made in the sector.
What is your take on consumer ambassadors to enhance your operation?
Yes, it is a good idea but consumer ambassadors themselves want to be paid. But how do you it can work? Do you think business owners would want to open their shops to anybody “I am a consumer ambassador,” please open your shop for checks. If you go to Multichoice and say am a CPC ambassador, I need to look at your decoders, so, it is a big difference. Even for us, we know the challenge we face when we go to markets for surveillance.